Hell

Preaching and Worship Resources about Hell

In traditional Christian doctrine, hell is the sphere of eternal, tormented alienation from God endured by demons and impenitent sinners.

In Scripture

No remembrance "For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?" (Ps. 6:5)

The wicked "The wicked shall depart to Sheol, all the nations that forget God" (Ps. 9:17).

No work in Sheol "Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going" (Eccles. 9:10).

"You fool" "`But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, "You fool," you will be liable to the hell of fire'" (Matt. 5:22).

The wide gate "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it" (Matt. 7:13).

Destruction of soul and body "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).

Gates of Hades "`And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it'" (Matt. 16:18).

Eternal fire "`As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' . . . Then he will say to those at his left hand, `You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'" (Matt. 25:30, 41).

Eternal punishment "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:46).

Better to cut off your hand than to go to Hell "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched'" (Mark 9:43 - 48).

God will not abandon his people to Hades "`For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption'" (Acts 2:27).

Separated from God "These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thess. 1:9).

Angels in Hell "For . . . God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment" (2 Peter 2:4).

In Revelation "I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth" (Rev. 6:8).

Hades defeated "And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:13 - 15).

The second death "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).

Points to Ponder

"Sheol" in the Hebrew Bible may mean death, grave, or the realm of the dead. It's a shadowy destination, sometimes described in the Old Testament as a place where very little is going on (Eccles. 9:10). Biblical thinking about hell sharpened in later centuries so the Greek words translated as "hell" in the New Testament (Hades, Gehenna, Tartoros) connote fire, lake of fire, darkness, punishment, death and destruction.

Images The fact that some of these pictures of hell clash with each other suggests that they are more like images than literal descriptions. Sometimes the image for hell is darkness, or outer darkness. But sometimes it's fire, which is not very dark at all. In Matthew 25:30 and 41 Jesus employs these alternate images almost back to back. A former Calvin Theological Seminary professor, Henry Stob, wrote that these images — fire and darkness — represent the two principle forms of sin. We either attack God or we flee from God. We are either rebels or aliens. "In either case hell is not a divine creation," he says. Sinners turn life to hell when they "mount an attack on God" and discover that God is a consuming fire. They are moths to God's fire. On the other hand, those who turn their backs on God, fleeing the fire, "move toward the eternal blackness that marks God's absence. Hell, then, is un-arrested sin's natural end." It leads either to "the fiery furnace" or to cold and desolate night.

Gates of Hades In the famous saying of Jesus that he will build his church on Peter "and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it," the expression "gates of Hades" represents ungodly power. Ancient cities were often walled and gated, so the city's vulnerability lay in its gates. If they were strong they would repel assault. In speaking this way, Jesus is saying the powers of death will not be able to repel the greater powers of righteousness — which they did not in Jesus' own resurrection on Easter morning.

A difficult doctrine Preachers of the doctrine of hell should be prepared for questions. Thoughtful believers have often struggled with the doctrine of hell. Who belongs there? Why eternally? Why would a good and just God create a world that he foreknew would feature a populated hell? And how does hell fit in a renewed world in which all things are to be "gathered up" in Christ (Eph. 1:10), or in which "God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things" (Col. 1:20), or in which "God is merciful to all" (Rom. 11:32) or in which "every knee should bend . . . and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:10 - 11)? Why eternal torment for one lifetime of sinning? Starting with the Greek church fathers, considerations of these kinds have prompted speculation that hell might turn out to be something like purgatory, or that it's a place where God euthanizes his enemies. C. S. Lewis appeared to have believed that nobody is in hell who doesn't want to be, and that "hell" for them is the poverty of their imagination and the corruption of their thinking.

The doctrine of hell is one about which the church has as many questions as answers.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.